Over the years, the biggest feature gamers have asked of Bethesda Softworks – creators of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout 3 – is multiplayer. People want to have those amazing adventures in Oblivion and Skyrim together with their friends, and while the core team at Bethesda isn’t making The Elder Scrolls Online, they may have the next best thing.
So, what did they get? The better question to ask is “who”, and the key person at the core of this game is Matt Firor, one of the creative minds behind Mythic Entertainment’s beloved MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot – and yes, Firor got away from Mythic just as the company was being bought out by EA. After a brief stint elsewhere, he has now spent five years at Zenimax Online Studios, a sister company to Bethesda Game Studios under the ownership of Zenimax proper. Presumably, at least a good chunk of those last five years have been spent on The Elder Scrolls Online.
This new MMORPG takes place on the full continent of Tamriel, not just the single nations and tidbits we’ve had in the last few games from Bethesda. It’s a thousand years before the events of Skyrim, a while before the Septim dynasty (which ends in Oblivion) brought lasting peace to Tamriel. Three groups of races will be vying for control of the central province of Cyrodiil, where Oblivion was set. The emperor of Tamriel has been feeling a little claustrophobic recently, what with him being completely landlocked by enemies on all sides and has made a pact with Molag Bal, one of the most sinister Daedric princes, for help. We’ve come to this rather odd situation where the guy running the seat of power in Tamriel is the one with armies of undead and creatures.
Some uneasy alliances are formed, and players join three factions in areas surrounding Cyrodiil – Dark Elves and Nords in the northeast (Vvardenfell, Morrowind, and Skyrim), Elves and Khajitt in the Aldmeri Dominion to the South, and Bretons and Argonians out in the northwest. And if this sounds like it’s a good DAoC-style setup for three-team siege battles, you’d be right – but more on that later.
TES Online is not intended to have quite the visual splendor of Skyrim, as the idea is to make an MMORPG that runs on a very wide range of PCs, not just the mid- and high-end stuff that Bethesda usually targets. The result is that the footage we saw of TES Online was a bit rough, not just because the game is in such an early state at this point, but also because it’ll be compatible with a wider range of PCs than Bethesda Game Studios goes for.
The PvE action we saw included some pretty standard combat and dungeon-running, but there are a few unique things I wanted to mention. First, it seemed like the developers want to have fewer action buttons, and instead allow players to long-press any ability for a special charged-up version. (As someone who hated juggling dozens of abilities all on my bars at once in WoW and The Old Republic, I’m perfectly fine with this decision.) The other thing that Firor explained was that some dungeons will be private, instanced places just for you and your party, while others will be public areas that aren’t instanced.
The idea behind this was to facilitate players helping each other and becoming friends that way, and to make this happen, Firor is implementing a tactic similar to the upcoming Guild Wars 2 where players always get their own loot and experience for contributing to any NPC kill. You don’t need to be grouped, and to borrow ArenaNet’s reasoning for why, the point is to make sure players feel good, not annoyed, when someone else comes along in the same area you’re fighting in. Those of us who played EverQuest way back in the day remember dungeons as being a very social experience, even with strangers, although that could easily go either way towards fun or frustration. Firor’s design for TES Online seems to be trying to channel the good parts of that without all of the static camps, kill stealing, “lists” of players who can join a particular group, and all that crap us old MMO geezers had to deal with.
We also saw a bit of footage of PvP. The plan is basically to reproduce Dark Age of Camelot’s Realm vs Realm action, this time with more players and in a more established fantasy universe, and it all takes place in castles and towns that were made famous in Oblivion. Basically, this central area of the continent is where the PvP happens, while the rest of the world is the home of the rest of the adventuring that’s going on. There will be sieges and keeps, and while the footage we saw had about a hundred people crashing into each other in a relatively open space, the full game will have more people fighting over more strategic points instead.
Through all of this, I kept asking myself if this really looked and felt like the The Elder Scrolls I know and love. Right now, the answer is a no. But the game is in such an early state – we never saw live gameplay, after all – that all of that could still be in the works. (Plus, we never saw a proper Elder Scrolls game this long before release, either.) Honestly, I’m not sure that TES Online was really ready to be shown if it can’t even be demonstrated live yet, but I do thank Bethesda and Zenimax for giving us such an early look at the game anyway. I was skeptical as hell before, but the game does look like it’s in good hands and I think it’ll fill in pretty nicely. It’s just a matter of them bringing both MMO fans and Elder Scrolls fans together in a way that makes both sides happy.
The Elder Scrolls Online will have PC and Mac clients and it won’t be out for quite a while. 2013 seems to be a minimum at this point.